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In the age of remote learning, mental health is taking a hit

Separated from friends, overwhelmed with schoolwork and possibly stuck in an unfortunate living arrangement, students are facing not only the fears of COVID-19, but also the mental health impacts of remote learning. 

With the Colorado stay-at-home order extended to April 26, residents continue to live their lives isolated. Tess Kilwein, a counseling trainee with Colorado State University’s Health Network, said isolation can have a wide variety of mental impacts. Having trouble sleeping, changing eating patterns and extensively using drugs and alcohol are just some of the effects of isolation. 

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Different groups of people, like extroverts and introverts, are impacted in separate ways, Kilwein said. But the variation is within the groups themselves. Some extroverts are more impacted than other extroverts, and the same goes for introverts. 

What is important is maintaining a sense of normalcy, routine and connection that makes the most sense for you and your personality/lifestyle,” Kilwein said.

No student is affected the same, Kilwein said. There is a wide variety of factors that come into play, such as the community they live in and their backgrounds. People directly affected by COVID-19 — older people, individuals with financial insecurity and people with preexisting health conditions, among other groups of people — may react more heavily to stress. 

Households also play a factor in a person’s mental health, whether that be living with parents, with roommates or alone. Jennifer Coleman, a CSU junior studying human development and family studies, is an active individual living with two other roommates. She said the switch from in-person to remote classes made a big difference in her mental health.

Coleman said she used to spend her time going to the gym, taking spin classes and enjoying time with friends. Now she’s stuck inside, finding it hard to motivate herself for classes and getting work done. 

“It feels a lot more lonely and very detached from what reality normally is,” Coleman said. 

You are not alone if you are experiencing mental health impacts due to COVID-19.” -Dr. Tess Kilwein, counseling trainee, CSU Health Network

When she had the option to see friends and do the things she enjoys, Coleman said her mental health was much better than it is now. In the meantime, she is trying to stick to her regular school routine for a sense of normalcy. Coleman is also keeping in touch with her family and friends. 

On the other hand, Grant Breeden, a CSU junior studying business administration, accounting and international business, is living back home with his parents and brother. Breeden said he is also struggling to find motivation for remote classes due to the lack of a set schedule along with student resources not being available like they would be on campus. 

With these school-related struggles, Breeden said he is still keeping himself sane. 

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“Mental health is pretty much the same,” Breeden said. “(I) can’t freak out and just have to go with the flow of things and get things done.”

While many people are finding this time more challenging in various ways, this time can also produce surprising advantages. Kilwein said a period of social distancing can provide a possibility for self-reflection and comfort in oneself. 

For the time being, practicing healthy coping mechanisms can aid a healthy mental state, Kilwein said. Keeping up to date on current news from credible sources, such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CSU announcements, can help ease the stress of how much time people may spend listening to unpleasant media updates. 

Staying connected is another vital coping mechanism during times of crisis. Kilwein said having consistent contact with friends and family can help with sustaining a feeling of normalcy during a not-so-normal time. Keeping in touch can also be an outlet for sharing feelings with loved ones and relief from stress. 

For anyone seeking professional mental health support, CSU Health Network Counseling Services are now available to CSU students through phone and secure teleconference sessions. 

“You are not alone if you are experiencing mental health impacts due to COVID-19,” Kilwein said.

It is essential to stay safe and clean during this time. Kilwein said adopting healthy habits such as washing hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, avoiding touching of the face and practicing proper social distancing are essential practices to follow. 

Greta Nelson-Bechtold can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @gretanelsonb.

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